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HomeNewsLocal newsOfficials Urge Public’s Involvement in Land Plan Development

Officials Urge Public’s Involvement in Land Plan Development

St. John residents packed both meetings in Coral Bay and Cruz Bay and were ready to give input on the plan. (Photo by Nykole Tyson for NT Media Production)

Government officials and their consultants praised the public for their participation in meetings introducing the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan. About 35 residents from East St. John gathered for the third of five scheduled meetings held Friday in Coral Bay.

What’s different about this town meeting series is the encouragement by organizers for active participation. After a brief introduction by consultant Nate Kelly, the audience settled into seats around folding tables set up around the room and they put their concerns into words. Moments before the session began, Coastal Zone Management Director Marlon Hibbert gave a quick pep talk.

Hibbert said he, the consultants, and other officials from Planning and Natural Resources were pleased with the turnout they’ve seen since the public meetings began. He urged the group to get involved and stay involved through the estimated 10 weeks of outreach that’s been planned for this phase of plan development.

The first public meetings on the proposed land and water plan were held March 1 on St. Thomas and March 2 in Cruz Bay.

Planning and Natural Resources first tried to create a land and water use plan for the territory more than 30 years ago under then-Gov. Alexander Farrelly. At that time, officials said they hoped to build a comprehensive plan to replace the Virgin Islands Comprehensive Policy Plan that had been used for guidance since 1983. A plan was developed and delivered to the Legislature in 1995, the same year Hurricane Marilyn devastated the St. Thomas-St. John district.

The plan was never adopted, according to a publication called “History of Land Use Planning in the U.S. Virgin Islands.” But Hibbert said consultants at the Horsley Witten Group have received copies of the historical documents related to land and water plan development over the years.

“The consultants have been given access to all the historical documents. And so … taking information from then to now … changes across those years are more than incorporated in it, and I think it’s important to note that it’s important that thoughts from that plan (sic) are still relevant today,” Hibbert said.

Nate Kelly, front right, guides St. John residents as they consider a comprehensive land and water use plan for St. John. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)
Nate Kelly, front right, guides St. John residents as they consider a comprehensive land and water use plan for St. John. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)

But Kelly, principal at the consultant group Horsley Witten, stressed the importance of having the public’s input throughout the plan’s development. Opportunities will come up to join focus groups and working groups, Kelly said.

“At the end of this process, there will be a land use map. Your place in this process is telling us what this map is going to say,” the consultant said.

Many in the Friday meeting in Coral Bay said they were ready and willing. Coral Bay resident David Silverman said he was ready to join the working group, hoping the result will make a difference.

“… [T]he existing land use plan has been on the books for 50 years and has almost never been implemented,” Silverman said.

“My biggest concern is that this has been talked about for 30 to 40 years. When is this going to happen?” said Hansen Bay resident and property manager Jay Swartley.

Then it was time to get down to business. Input forms were circulated; pencils swiveled over paper as residents jotted down their concerns. Kelly and others led discussions in the break-out sessions, and gathered the written comments after close to an hour.

How would the comments be used, the consultant was asked. Each one would be loaded into a spreadsheet, the consultant said. They will be read and re-read by different members of the consultant team, searching for similarities. They will also search for hidden themes, things that were not apparent at the time the comments were collected.

And like threads in a mystery novel, Kelly said those comments, trends and topics may help the planning team come up with the kind of land and water use plan that will serve the territory and its people for many years.

The final public engagement meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday on St. Croix.

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